So, yeah. I’ve been away because of a particularly busy work schedule. But I’m back! I’m sure there will be much rejoicing, &c.

ANYWAY. Our WFRP group bit the dust after one of our players became largely unavailable. I don’t have much patience for leisure activities that require byzantine scheduling; I do too much of that madness already at work. Some months went by in which there were no RPGs, and those months were unpleasant.

At the moment, I’m getting to play for a bit, which has been a pleasant change. Even more surprising is the fact that we’re playing one of the most stuff-less games in the universe, and I’m really digging it. Somehow, it’s 1994 again, and I’m back in college playing Vampire: The Masquerade. We’re even using first edition rules. Don’t really know how that happened, but there it is.

Of course, the Storyteller system has always caused a minor disturbance in the Force in our household. I have loved it for a long time. Don’t get me wrong; I think it’s one of the easiest systems to run poorly and to play poorly. Having tried it myself, I know that it’s extraordinarily difficult to be a good ST, and even one mediocre player can substantially weaken the game. Still, some of the best campaigns I played in my 20s were Vampire and Changeling games, and I’ve always maintained that with a good group, the Storyteller system makes for better sessions than most other games. My husband, on the other hand, has maintained that the Storyteller system is broken at its core, with a weak rules system bolstered only by a decent mythos. For the most part, we just generally steered clear of discussing World of Darkness when we talked about RPGs.

Then, someone at work mentioned that he ran a game and that we’d be invited if we were interested. We did one of those “interview games,” where you play out one game just to see if you all like each other and then agree vaguely to talk about whether or not you want to keep going at some noncommittal point in the future. We met in the evening on a Saturday, planning to do some other stuff that evening after we tried it out and then to get back to the ST later if we decided we wanted to keep going. I’ll be honest: I wasn’t hopeful that my husband would want to keep playing, and I just hoped that it would kind of suck so I wouldn’t be caught with one of us wanting to play and the other not.

Chargen made me nervous; our ST was very laissez-faire. I’m a hoverer, so I was kind of freaked out when he didn’t worry too much about what was on our sheets. To be honest, I’m always kind of freaked out by character sheets, because I never know if the person running the game will count on us to know just the right skill to get us through a weirdly-constructed moment of the game specifically designed to play to our characters’ strengths, ie, an encounter designed around some bizarre skill I took on a whim that’s written in the margins on the back of my sheet and that I forget immediately. Still, he was so not worried about what I was taking that I thought, “Oh, yeah. We’ll probably remake these later if they don’t fit the game. Right.”

Except nope. We started to play, and I realized that the ST wasn’t very interested in what was on my character sheet because he was only secondarily interested in the mechanics of the game at all. I had that feeling of total magic I had back the first time I played a White Wolf game, which had been presented to me as “the English major’s D&D.” Our ST’s that perfect rules minimalist/’say yes’ kind of gamer, the sort that many people want to be but most can’t really manage well. We rolled dice only a few times in our first session, because most of the stuff we wanted to do, we just did. I have to admit that after managing all of that WFRP stuff, I felt kind of liberated. Nobody had to flip cards or worry about whether or not to add a puzzle piece to their stance tracker at the start of the game. We just negotiated the story. I had forgotten how much I love RPGs when the mechanics almost entirely disappear.

The other major revelation for me came after our second session. (Yes, there was a second session–my husband happily scheduled it that very evening.) We played for about seven hours, I think. I say ‘I think’ because there wasn’t a clock in the room and I didn’t look at my phone once.  Now, I can’t tell you the last time I went for more than an hour without looking at my phone. Even when we played WFRP, we usually had several breaks in which I had the chance just to sneak a quick peek at my email or text messages. Still, during that second session, I totally forgot I even had a phone, and when we broke up the game at 1am, I was shocked to see that so much time had gone by.

For me, those are all the hallmarks of a truly great game: a lack of bogging down in mechanics, an emphasis on combat only when absolutely necessary for the story’s advancement, and a storyline so compelling that you forget your own name temporarily.

Anyway, more later on how all that’s turning out–and, of course, what I bought for it. I’m also looking forward to an upcoming playthrough of the Star Wars Beginner’s Box, which is happening at some point. Soon. Theoretically. We spent tonight making some nice cardstock buildings for that, so I’ll post a bit about those, too, and about how I only got glue on 75% of the nearby furniture. In the meantime, though, I hope everyone’s well!

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GW recently announced pre-orders for their new Chaos Space Marines army, and the items are selling fast, despite the usual griping about GW’s pricing model. (Apparently this is the most expensive Codex yet.) They’ve also released a handful of special miniatures which might work perfectly for your 40K game, especially if you’re playing Black Crusade. These include the cheerful Warpsmith, the happy little Apostle, and the delightfully welcoming Daemon Prince, not to mention the fun Forgefiend/Maulerfiend kit with its 67-components’ worth of choices. I could just see that last one as a recurring NPC. In fact, that last one is the only thing I’ve seen that might make me get out my Collector’s Edition Black Crusade and run it. I will call my NPC Maulerfiend Spot, and it will follow the PCs around ALWAYS.

I’m an overpreparer, so I don’t generally use things like random dungeon rooms. In fact, I tend to run games without dungeons. Still, I’ve played in enough games that had delightful dungeon crawls that lasted for session upon session, run by a GM with a bunch of random monster generation tables and an endless thirst for blood and death to know that such things can be fun.

…for the GM.

Anyway, I did recently see a neat set of last year’s Kickstarted Dungeonmorph Dice. Each face of these dice shows the picture of a different dungeon room, and when rolled and put end to end on a table, they produce endless strange maps of dungeoneering goodness. You can even get the images on the die faces as a font for Mac/Windows/Linux so that you can produce your own maps in any word processor. A quick check of the map symbol key shows that the dungeons include plenty of landmarks and points of interest that could encourage roleplay beyond hack n’ slash, and a GM could easily write a series of encounters based on the symbol key before rolling (or letting a player roll.)

If you like the idea of random dungeon generation that can be done on the fly and that allows your players to interact with the “tables,” this product might hit the spot. Or mark the X. Or something. Wait…is that the symbol for big owlbear which kicks my ass?

I collect a lot of RPG systems, often buying just to take a look. I’m fond of storytelling games, and although I have a hard time getting them on the table, I do think that reading a wide variety of types of systems helps a GM become more effective at telling a story and managing a table full of players. I’ve incorporated ideas from Luke Crane’s games (Burning Wheel, Mouse Guard, and Freemarket) into my Warhammer sessions, and I’ve found that they’ve positively impacted how the players at my table interact with each other and how they solve puzzles within the game world.

These days, many of the most intriguing new games start over at Kickstarter. If you’re a gaming junkie like we are, though, you can easily spend hours on Kickstarter looking up stuff in all of the categories of gaming you enjoy and miss some key projects. That’s why I was delighted to find the RPG Kickstarters feed over at Tumblr. Here, you’ll find a descriptions of all of the newest RPGs on Kickstarter and links to their funding pages. It’s a great resource for those of us who want to keep up with what’s happening in the Indie/Small Press scene. There’s also a great page of advice for writers considering Kickstarting their own games.

Go Kickstart some awesomeness!

Since we have a lot of stuff, we tend to take a lot of stuff with us when we attend conventions. And when we go on vacation. And when we go away for the weekend. Actually, we end up hauling board games or RPGs pretty much everywhere we go. It’s not like that’s necessarily easy; board games are heavy, especially since we like Fantasy Flight games with tons of bits. RPGs can be as easy as a dice bag and a few books, but as you can tell from the blog, that’s not really how we roll; we go in for box sets and lots of props. That being said, we’ve perfected the art of carrying game stuff with us over the past few years. Here are some protips:

  • Useful Bag #1: the LL Bean XL Boat and Tote bag. I got one of these from my work a few years back, and it’s a lifesaver. The thick canvas ensures that it won’t break under the weight of your heaviest games, and the sides stay upright and sturdy to keep your boxes from sliding around in transit. These have a kind of uncool middle-aged mom-vibe which I don’t love, but if you can get your games to fit in them, they’re probably the safest way to go. Tuck a rain jacket in on top to make sure that nothing gets wet on the way into the building.
  • Useful Bag #2: the IKEA bag. Those big-box FFG games won’t fit in an LL Bean tote, but they’ll fit in one of those huge, tarp-material IKEA bags. (I learned while writing this post that they’re called FRAKTA bags. I will now insist on calling them “the FRAKTAS” in an annoying voice from here on out.) Since they’re designed to fold up after use, the IKEA bags have flimsy sides and won’t keep your stuff from sliding around in the car, so make sure you Tetris anything you put in these bags into the back of your car carefully so your stuff doesn’t go flying when you take a left turn.
  • Useful Tip #1: Keep your dice separate from everything else in a handy dice bag. I like the FFG bags, although many people I know swear by DragonChow bags. Little dice bags can get lost in the mess of everything else you’re carrying, so stash them in a smaller bag that you mean to take with you. Lots of games use standard sets of dice, so having a set handy means you’ll have your own handy.
  • Box it: Staples carries Really Useful Boxes, which are my favorite way of carrying little bits and organizing them at the table, but any crafting store will have an assortment of plastic boxes ideal for carrying bits in their beading section. If you store your things in crafting boxes when you put your games away, you’ll have a handy way to keep them tidy on the table, too.
  • Take the right equipment: I’m fond of my cardstock buildings, but they don’t travel well. Pulling out Paizo or D&D map tiles allow for a variety of quick scenery changes without taking up a ton of space.

Yay! Rodeo games announced recently that they are developing an iOS version of the classic board game Warhammer Quest. I played the original version during a session in which a local board game collector pulled out a whole bunch of his “classics”; it’s a quirky and fun little game, partly because it’s so hilariously perilous. I’m looking forward to seeing it again in an electronic version, and as always, I’m delighted to see more Warhammer products for iPad. Here’s IGN’s scoop with a bit more info. A detailed description of the original board game can be found here on Board Game Geek.

I stumbled across the link to iheartprintandplay tonight while surfing Twitter. Its owner, Derek Weller, creates charming printable standees in the style of the Order of the Stick for your D&D games. He’s got a whole host of mini beasties and PCs for D&D, and he’s also got plans for printable origami dice! He’s also created adorable character condition cards, too. Definitely worth a quick trip over, especially if you run a light-hearted game that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I may just print these little guys out to put on my desk at work because they’re so awesome.

There’s also a great section of the blog dedicated to other free print and play games. There are only a couple of games listed now, but if you’ve got one of your own, you might want to contact Weller and tell him about it!

I know many of you have been out at GenCon, playing your fill of games and seeing more stuff to buy than you could possibly purchase in a lifetime. I just thought I’d mention a neat Kickstarter project that has some really great potential: Brass Monkey’s Dragons Gameboard.

This nifty little package would let you display a battle map on a TV or large computer monitor for your players to see during tabletop gaming. Each of them could, in turn, manipulate their own tokens on the map via smartphones or tablets.

I absolutely, positively LOVE this idea. Using individual handheld devices at the table would keep my players engaged (and would keep their phones on something game-centered instead of on Twitter or Facebook.) A system like this cuts down on prep time, too; I wouldn’t have to set up a table full of cardstock buildings and minis, spend the morning keeping the kitten off the table, and then switch out a million tiles and buildings mid-session when the PCs moved to a new area. On the other hand, I personally dislike the art style here–I’d like to see something that looks more like an actual hand-drawn map, something less griddy/pixelly. The games I tend to favor don’t focus on strategic battles, so I use maps flavor more than for tactical clarity, and a bunch of colored blocks don’t really add much flavor to a game. The project promises to remain open source, though, so DMs would have the opportunity to implement their own tilesets and could undoubtedly figure out how to make use of the system for other sorts of RPGs.

This project is definitely one to keep your eye on; Brass Monkey has a solid idea, and for those with limited table space, it might mean the difference between making your home a viable place to play and always having to tote your minis and chips to someone else’s house.

I was in a not-so-local but still friendly gaming store the other day where they had a table dedicated to Wyrd Miniatures/Worldworks Games Terraclips for Malifaux. These sets feature lovely, full-color building pieces in modular sheets on hefty punchboard (1.7mm thick, to be exact.) You can clip the sections of wall, flooring, and roof together with the little terraclips made of transparent plastic so that they don’t mar the overall look of the terrain. I only got a quick look, but they seem high-quality and versatile enough to fit multiple scenarios. Best of all, a disassembled and boxed set takes up about the same space as a couple of RPG rulebooks. The Malifaux set would work well for any dark-ish city setting, (general WFRP and Mordheim both leap to mind,) and Worldworks has several dungeon sets coming soon that includes lava pits, rooms full of gold, and sarcophagi. These strike me as a nice compromise between easy-to-damage cardstock buildings and difficult-to-store plastic or resin models. I hope they plan to keep expanding the line! In fact, if this product line keeps growing and the space in my apartment keeps shrinking, I might end up replacing my own shelves of cardstock scenery with these.

If you’re in the WFRP fandom, it’s likely that you’re already aware that we’ve released Liber Fanatica IX: Perils of Empire. If not, and you’re looking for an excellent fan supplement, head over to the webpage and download it here. I had the pleasure of writing an article on GMing for this one, and I got to see the piece take shape. It’s always a pleasure to work with such thoughtful, dedicated, talented contributors and editors! I hope you enjoy it and find it useful for your own games!

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